Wednesday, May 04, 2011

American Idol Top 5

I am having a busy week, so my comments may be a little more succinct than usual, as I go back into my DVR and watch this evening's program, pausing to give some thoughts after each performance.

Tonight, there will be two rounds, as the contestants will sing both a song from "the last few years" and one from the 1960s. This may really confuse modern day liberals, who still believe we are living in the '60s. One of them, Sheryl Crow will serve as mentor.

Round 1 will be the current tunes:

1. James Durbin- "Closer to the Edge"

As someone who does not follow current music, I did not know this song. Jared Leto has a band? I enjoy very much when James does either hair metal or ballads. He has a great voice and is a terrific performer.

When he sings songs like this though, it's just sort of forgettable to me. His walking through the crowd, high-fiving audience members just seemed extra cheesy. His vocals were ok, but it seemed more grating to me tonight, since I did not like the song. He probably will come out with a different vibe for the next round, and I am likely to enjoy it more. Does that mean I am really that old? He would have won points with me if he would have included some sort of "we kicked your ass Osama" ad lib into the song. Grade: B-

2. Jacob Lusk- "No Air"

This is the first Jordin Sparks song to ever be covered on American Idol. Will anyone ever sing a Taylor Hicks song? Tonight, Jacob attempted to sing both parts of this duet, originally done by Jordin and noted woman abuser Chris Brown.

This did not really work for me at all. Jacob sounded pitchy as he sang most of the song in a very high pitched manner. He has to know that he is a heavy favorite to leave this competition tonight, and I do not think this performance will do him any favors. I have to agree with Randy Jackson, that Jacob will be much better off going the gospel/Luther Vandross side of R&B route, and not trying to be a pop singer. Grade: C+

3. Lauren Alaina- "Flat On the Floor"

I do not know this Carrie Underwood song, but a lot of Idol voters will. While it was hard to understand much of the lyrics, (and while the fiddle player looked like he would be more in place playing the instrument for Adam Lambert's band), this was a very strong performance for Lauren.

She seemed a lot more comfortable and confident in her performance than she did last week and this sort of anthemic country pop is the right route for her to go musically. When Carrie was an Idol contestant, her vocals were usually stellar, but she was also often lacking in stage presence. While it was not my kind of music, Lauren was able to combine the two in a way that she should help her advance in the competition. Grade: B+

I still am waiting though for one of the kids to try to get votes while figuratively stomping on the corpse of Osama bin Laden. That would be a slam dunk strategic thing to do this week! Maybe Scotty will sing Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue."

4. Scotty McCreery- "Gone"

Such a missed opportunity to not sing the song I mentioned, but Monday was certainly too late in the game for a change. In any event, I think Scotty's fans will be quite pleased with this performance of another song I have never heard. There is without a doubt more country music performed this season of American Idol than ever before.

While I found Scotty's voice to be overpowered at times by the backup singers, it was still a very credible performance of a very up-tempo tune. It was truly good to see him challenge himself by doing a different kind of country song than what he often does. He ran around the stage and put on a show with fearless abandon. Since voters are paying attention to things beyond just vocals, that was a very good thing for him to do. He certainly seemed to put a lot more effort and intensity into this performance than a few others he had done recently. Grade: B

5. Haley Reinhart- "You And I"

The backstory here is that Jimmy Iovine prevailed on Haley to sing an unreleased Lady Gaga song. Considering how Iovine has said some pretty uncomplimentary things about the contestant on last week's result show, was this an attempt to throw her a bone or a gentle push under the bus? Fascinating stuff.

I do not think it started off very good as Haley seemed to be off vocally, but as it went on, and especially at the end, I thought she did some good things with it and did seem to make it more tailored to her style. The judges were pretty down on the song choice though, and Haley was looking all sorts of upset as they gave their critiques. This could very well affect her confidence as she sings her final song of the evening in the pimp spot. Grade: B

Round 1 Rankings:

5. Jacob Lusk
4. James Durbin
3. Haley Reinhart
2. Scotty McCreery
1. Lauren Alaina

Round 2... back to the '60s, although we are told James will be singing a song from 1970. Go figure.

1. James Durbin- "Without You"

I would like to her James sing the Motley Crue song of this name from 1989, but instead, it is a ballad that has been done before on Idol, but never by a female. As he is practicing in the studio, James breaks down in tears, as he relates the lyrics to his experience missing his fiancee and son. The estrogen laden Idol audience (and others such as my father), are perhaps crying along with him.

While I think Kelly Clarkson sang it better, James does a good job of delivering the vocals, while appearing quite emotionally invested in the song. It was perhaps a bit pitchy at parts, but because of the ambiance of the performance, it is harder to notice at home. As he finishes, James is completely teary eyed. Will this be a preview of a confetti heavy moment at the Nokia Theater three weeks from tomorrow? Grade: B+

2. Jacob Lusk- "Love Hurts"

Is this song from the '60s? Is it really a "rock song", as being billed? The way the kids are talking, it sounds like Jimmy Iovine might be flat out picking these songs for them, as Jacob talks about being apprehensive to sing it, as it is out of his usual genre. (He did sing a Heart song though earlier this season.)

In what is likely his last ditch effort to stay in the competition, Jacob lays everything on the line and "gets lost in the song." There were definitely times when his vocals were not overly pleasing to the ears, and other times when you have to be impressed by his aural arsenal. The ends of his songs are often like the finale of a fireworks display as all sorts of crazy things start happening. Some of them work and some seem more like duds though. The lyrics of this song had him repeating the refrain "it hurts", and I think a lot of non-Team Jacob fans might be saying the exact thing about their ears. Grade: B-

3. Lauren Alaina- "Unchained Melody"

For her second performance of the evening, the young lady takes on the all-time favorite song of former judge Simon Cowell. While the current judges had nothing but positive things to say about it, I was actually a bit surprised they were not more over the top in their praise.

This was a very smart song for her to sing, and it was quite different stylistically from the first number. She retained her confidence and poise though in both performances and delivered pretty good vocals as well. The arrangement was changed in a way to best showcase her voice, as she hit some big low notes, but managed to avoid attempting the very high note in the song, that Kellie Pickler once attempted on the Idol stage a few years back. It makes it seem to me like all that talk in recent weeks about Lauren being "afraid" to attempt big notes was producer planted audience manipulation. All around, an extremely strong night for the former Miss Suddeth. Grade: A-

Incidentally, as one of the "Chosen Ones" this year on Idol, I theorize that Lauren was perhaps in the Bottom Two last week, as Idol only revealed who received the lowest. The horrible storms in Lauren's home region of the country last Tuesday probably prevented a lot of her fans from watching the show and/or voting.

4. Scotty McCreery- "Always On My Mind"

I had my suspicions, so I did the Wikipedia thing, and sure enough, Elvis did not record this song until 1972. This "60's" theme is being pretty loosely interpreted. I wonder if White House Press Secretary Jay Carney could explain it without having to walk anything back.

In any event, this was one of the best songs for Scotty to attempt for his voice and it was another example of a good contrast from his first performance. Randy Jackson might claim that it was Scotty "turning the other cheek."

Vocally, it was pretty good, although Scotty certainly does not have the vocal range of the other contestants. He makes up for it though perhaps with his strong ability in phrasing and story-telling. At the end, there was a sniffling moment where it seemed as if Scotty was either a bit emotional or having some sort of allergy issue. I refuse to believe that he might be a cocaine fiend. I hope he does not intend to read Steven Tyler's new memoir. In additional good news for Scotty, this week Grandma # 2, the Puerto Rican version, was front and center after his performance. If the Heartland and Latin America unite, he may be unstoppable. Grade: B

5. Haley Reinhart- "The House of the Rising Sun"

Unlike earlier, there are a lot of well-known songs in this round, and I think America will probably agree that there were some strong performances as well.

Towards the beginning of this, Haley hit some notes that I was not crazy about and reminded me a bit of why I tended to discount her earlier in the season, but once again, as it went on, she really poured her all into it and was pretty successful. Her ability to incorporate intense jazzy growling is quite a talent. The judges went nuts over it and it was declared "best of the night." It seems like they want her around, at least for one more week (and then that is probably it.) Grade: B+

Round 2 Rankings:

5. Jacob Lusk
4. Scotty McCreery
3. Haley Reinhart
2. James Durbin
1. Lauren Alaina

Now, the time has come to reach across the decades and meld the two rounds together in an average composite ranking for the evening. I have a three way tie for second place. I need to do some deliberations now...

5. Jacob Lusk
4. Scotty McCreery
3. James Durbin
2. Haley Reinhart
1. Lauren Alaina

To me, Jacob, while talented, is an obvious choice to leave tonight. The truth is that who I would want to see as the Final Four are really bunched pretty closely together.

I really think it is incredibly likely that Jacob will be eliminated this week. The only other conventional wisdom possibility would be Haley, and I just think she has more fans than him, and also probably inherited many fans of the now eliminated Casey Abrams.

James crying tonight, if nothing else, should advance him. That leaves the only "shocker" possibility being a divided country music vote knocking off either Lauren or Scotty. Keep an eye on that a couple weeks down the road, where Lauren might surprisingly knock off Scotty, to advance to the Finale against James......where she may very well win.

Could we actually have a female winner after all?